BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Lex Nilos has never volunteered for any national or local candidate until this election season.
When the 27-year-old local influencer with 50,000 followers started mixing upbeat lifestyle posts with fact-checking and promoting opposition presidential candidate, Vice President Leni Robredo, friends warned him about the potential fallout.
“They were right. When I started posting, some people immediately stopped following my page” the unpaid volunteer for the local Laban Leni Negros Occidental (LLNO) network told Rappler in an online interview.
But the communications graduate, who blogs on the side when not working at his day job for a famous producer of delicacies, felt the stakes were too high to go back.
“I see so many posts distorting facts and history,” he said in the Ilonggo language. “It’s not mere opinions. It’s false information. There’s a difference. That’s when I told myself, ‘I can’t just sit back’.”
“The battle is really hard,” Lex acknowledged. Wading into the networks that spread false information makes you a target.
“But if we don’t do anything, the lies will spread and spread. We have to confront the lies,” he said.
Lex saw a call early on Sunday, March 6, for volunteers to clean up the Paglaum Sports Complex, the venue of Robredo’s March 11 grand rally in this city.
“I went there alone. I was at the mall and thought, it’s not enough to just promote online. You also have to show up.”
Rain threatened but around a hundred people answered the call.
Most had brought brooms, rags, dustpans, trash bags. Lex was ashamed he didn’t have any, but fellow volunteers lent him their extra equipment. Some brought food for sharing.
Once the city’s premier stadium, the two-hectare Paglaum has been left behind by the newer, more sprawling Panaad complex. Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic had also emptied it of its main users, students of the Negros Occidental High School.
Lex and company pulled up roots of plants that had started growing through the cement floors and walls of the stadium.
Once the rain stopped, they swarmed across the grounds.
“There were big vines,” Lex laughed, recalling the difficulty of pulling these off fences.
For several hours, they sweated it out, battling what youth volunteers joked was an encroaching jungle.
By the time dusk fell, strangers had become friends.
There was a group of ten from the organization of deaf people, all ages. By the end of the day, Lex was chatting with them in his rough version of sign language.
Negrense artists led by Charlie Co also dropped by to map out the site for a grand installation, the first interactive visual art exercise in a Robredo rally.
Co told Rappler they have started buying materials. Dozens of artists from across the province are expected to throw their talents together for the Vice President and her running-mate, senator Kiko Pangilinan.
Art of engagement
“It’s my first time volunteering for a presidential candidate,” said Lex. “But I know I’m not doing it for myself. I’m doing this for the betterment of the country, hopefully, if she wins.
“I love the culture of sharing among my co-kakampinks. I know that I chose the right candidate when everyone around you is inspired to volunteer,” he told Rappler.
Thousands of Negrenses are learning or re-learning the art of engagement as they campaign for Robredo and Pangilinan.
Negros Occidental’s ladies-who-lunch and small women entrepreneurs from urban poor communities sew campaign paraphernalia together and stand beside each other to serve anyone who will accept the lowly lugaw (porridge), the symbol of the presidential hopeful’s egalitarian campaign.
Tricycle drivers and SUV-driving sugar planters exchange notes on rising fuel costs, traffic and corruption. Market vendors and former councilors dance with each other to the many jingles composed for Robredo.
Rich and poor across the country have dug deep into their pockets and offered time and talent for the underdog in the May 2022 presidential election, sparking big and bigger rallies for Robredo and Pangilinan.
It has become a friendly competition, seeing who can come up with bigger crowds and more inventive events for the opposition standard-bearers.
“The pressure is on after seeing the overwhelming crowd in Iloilo, Cebu, Cavite and Bulacan,” LLNO spokesperson Ocampo said.
In this city, personal checks, shoeboxes full of coins and small bills, boxes of water and food, first aid kits and medicines are pouring in from volunteers to the LLNO office at a gasoline station on CL Montelibano St.
The LLNO, a province-wide network of volunteer groups, is the lead organizer of the March 11 grand rally. The Vice President’s local headquarters is coordinating with groups and politicians leading rallies in other towns and cities of the province.
Paglaum, which means hope in Ilonggo, has a 35,000 capacity, Ocampo told Rappler.
The volunteer group also got permits to close off two big roads around the complex, Hernaez and Lacson streets, because they expect a huge “spillover”.
LED screens will be put up along the two roads to allow the crowd outside to interact with those inside the complex, Ocampo added.
“There is no registration,” the LLNO spokesperson stressed. Every one is welcome
“We want to make sure that rain or shine, we will deliver our message that Negros is pink,” she added. – Rappler.com